How to write a successful ending to your novel: 3 essential tips

A novel, any novel, thrives on conflict, resolution and change.

You need to show readers what’s at stake, then allow it to happen. Show the characters worrying and trying to prevent things – then always let those things happen. Everything the character does makes things worse. There is conflict on every page that is believable (characters have a real motivation for everything they do, not just because the author wants it to happen). You need your main characters to fight, disagree and misunderstand each other – but you can’t just have them getting angry suddenly. If you make them emotional infants, your readers will look down on them.

Keep your eye on the most important thing. I’ve read several indie novels where the heroes are caught in a political/supernatural conspiracy with people dying and enemies at their front door, and they stop to flirt playfully or talk about their feelings. Don’t do it! If feelings are relationship are the most important thing, that’s fine (although it won’t be a great book). Save your romantic speeches. Even in a romance – actions speak louder than words! A confession of love should only be at the very end, the rest of the time should be filled with mixed feelings, aggression, fear, loneliness, desire, etc. If something else is going on, like a plot -it needs to demand all of your main characters attention. If it doesn’t, or if he can go home and relax at the end of the day with a cold beer and a sports game, then your plot isn’t good enough. It has to be fully engaging. If your characters don’t care, why will readers?

The way to make a novel succeed is to let all the bad things happen, until it’s impossible for the protagonist to continue without changing. Then they make a change, they grow, they evolve, they have an epiphany, then they go back and try again and finally succeed.

So here are the things you need to ask yourself.

Three things you need to ask yourself about your novel’s ending

1. Did the hero change – learn, grow, fail and then try again?

2. Did you warn readers of all the bad things that could happen, and then deliver on that promise? (With the exception of death for the hero…although the hero should have come damn close, or even appeared to have died before returning – as in every Hollywood movie ever…)

3. Was everything you put in the novel essential to get to this ending? (If there is any scene, no matter how good, that doesn’t affect the plot at all, so that you could cut it out without changing the ending, get rid of it!) Every page has to count. At the end of the novel, readers will go back and ask “why did they show us that? What was that important?” Unless you’re deliberately planting red herrings (and be very, very careful if you do) cut out everything that isn’t essential to the main story.

4. Does the ending have a sense of finality? It should. Don’t end with a light joke, some casual banter, or talking about a new mission that will begin the next day. This story needs to be THE story (not just a minor episode). It should life changing and memorable. It’s characters need to feel moved, changed, proud to have survived, tons of emotion. Usually, it’s positive emotion and they will feel courageous, empowered, ecstatic. The ending should be the best day of their lives. Even if not, make it heavy, momentous.

Here is the ending to “Moby Dick” – one of the greatest books of all time:

“A sky-hawk that tauntingly had followed the main-truck downwards from its natural home among the stars, pecking at the flag, and incommoding Tashtego there; this bird now chanced to intercept its broad fluttering wing between the hammer and the wood; and simultaneously feeling that etherial thrill, the submerged savage beneath, in his death-gasp, kept his hammer frozen there; and so the bird of heaven, with archangelic shrieks, and his imperial beak thrust upwards, and his whole captive form folded in the flag of Ahab, went down with his ship, which, like Satan, would not sink to hell till she had dragged a living part of heaven along with her, and helmeted herself with it.

Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf; a sullen white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.”

The very first and very last paragraphs in your book are the most important!

What were your favorite endings?

About Derek Murphy

I help authors and artists turn their passions into full-time businesses, make a bigger impact, and blaze a luminous trail of creative independence. Right now I'm in Taiwan finishing a PHD in Literature, writing several books, and managing a handful of online businesses. Find me

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